Asthma

Asthma is a condition wherein the airways narrow causing difficulty breathing and wheezing. It is a major non communicable disease that affects both children and adults, estimated to have affected about 262 million people in the year 2019.

Last Updated: February 26, 2024

There are many factors that have been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma but there is no single established reason why it manifests in patients. For one, this condition develops in “sensitive” individuals that are genetically predisposed to have exaggerated reactions to certain triggers. It is observed that an individual is more likely to get asthma if other family members have asthma or any allergic diseases. Environmental factors also play a role since it has been found that early tobacco smoke and air pollution exposure is linked with an increased risk for asthma. 

 

Once asthma is developed, triggers such as dust, smoke, pollen, or exercise can cause the airways to constrict and lead to breathing problems. 

Most children and adults with asthma have episodic attacks - periods when difficulty breathing and other symptoms present themselves. If the symptoms start to become more frequent or more severe, then this is a sign that the condition is worsening. Some of the most common symptoms during asthma attacks are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Wheezing when exhaling
  • Trouble sleeping caused by breathing problems
  • Coughing

Asthma is diagnosed based on the patient’s history and symptoms. The physician may ask the patient about any other allergic condition they may have since these have been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma. Some diagnostic tests are also used by physicians such as the spirometry, where the amount of air the lungs can hold is measured as well as how fast the patient can breathe it out. The  peak flow test functions the same way and the FeNO test is done to determine if there is inflammation in the lungs.


Once asthma is confirmed, the patient may also undergo an allergy test to determine what can trigger asthma attacks. These triggers are then avoided by the patient to prevent attacks from happening. An asthma inhaler is also given so they can relieve the symptoms when asthma attacks do happen. These inhalers may contain steroids or beta agonists that control the swelling, relax the airways, and restore normal breathing.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent asthma from developing, especially in patients with high risk such as those with other allergic conditions. However, asthma attacks are preventable by avoiding the allergens and irritants that trigger the airway's response. Preventer inhalers are also an option for severe cases of asthma. With this, an inhaler is used everyday to reduce the airway’s sensitivity to triggers and prevent the symptoms from occurring. This can be more costly than reliever inhalers since preventer inhalers have to be used even if the patient is not currently experiencing symptoms. 

 

References:

Fanta, C., & Barrett, N. (2022). An overview of asthma management. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/an-overview-of-asthma-management

Fanta, C, & Lange-Vaidya, N. (2022). Asthma in adolescents and adults: Evaluation and diagnosis. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/asthma-in-adolescents-and-adults-evaluation-and-diagnosis

Last Updated: February 26, 2024